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Minister pledges to abolish pig farm at site of former concentration camp
26-01-2009  Jan Velinger

For years, numerous Czech governments promised but failed to abolish an infamous pig farm in Lety, South Bohemia, built in the 1970s at the site of a former concentration camp. More than 1,000 Romanies were interned there during World War II and more than 300 died there. But until now, all efforts to abolish the farm, in favour of a proper memorial, have come up short. Now, the newly-named minister for human rights and ethnic minorities, Michael Kocáb, has expressed his own commitment to see the project through. But many have questioned whether he can succeed, where so many others have failed.

Pig farm in Lety A proper memorial in Lety, South Bohemia, to those who died there during the war is something that human rights activists have pursued for years, but to little effect: the pig farm built in Lety in the 1970s has remained until now. The new minister for human rights and ethnic minorities Michael Kocáb (a man who helped orchestrate the withdrawal of Russian troops from Czechoslovakia after 1989) has pledged to do more. Although welcoming the minister’s words, many remain representatives of Roma groups remain sceptical. Earlier I spoke to Markus Pape of the Committee for the Redress of the Romany Holocaust:

Lety concentration camp in 1940 “I hope of course that the statement is meant seriously and that some action will follow. But our experiences so far are unfortunately that previous ministers promised they would do something about the problem which has been evident for the last decade but none ever achieved any significant results.”

More than 1,000 Romanies were interned at the Lety camp during World War II; 327 died there from disease or abuse, while more than 500 were transported to the death camp in Auschwitz. Every year, a ceremony is held near the site in their memory, but until now no government has been able to remove the offending farm. The cost of buying up the property, some have estimated would be between 500 million to 1 billion crowns. But Markus Pape argues that ultimately the problem lies not with the costs but with a lack of understanding and deeper political will.

“If the prisoners in the camp had been of Czech ethnic origin, a pig farm would never have been built there. Or even if it had, it would have been moved a long time ago. The government should understand that the German government is obliged to pay for a memorial but that the Czech government – and the Czechs alone – are obliged to pay for the moving of the farm.”

Michael Kocáb will have less than two years before the next general election to put forward a viable action plan and deliver on his promise. That’s not a huge amount of time, some observers argue, for him to succeed.

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